Wasteland wanderer: how Tish Murtha captured the beating heart of Tyneside

Wasteland wanderer: how Tish Murtha captured the beating heart of TynesideMarch 31, 2021

Kids at rubbish tips, adolescents on the dole, sex workers in the street … the photographer made marginalised lives matter. But recognition came too late. Now her daughter’s making a film about her extraordinary life

One of Tish Murtha’s first photography assignments, after she enrolled at Newport College of Art in 1976, was to shoot people at work. Befriending a man called Wilf who, like her father, was a scrap man, she went on to take magical photographs at the rubbish dump, where he was often to be found. Some of her images show a fantastical figure in a mouse mask. Another captures a girl with her head in a skip, scavenging for lost treasure.

“It was very much what she knew,” says Ella Murtha, Tish’s daughter. “My granda and uncles would go down to the dump and find gems. That’s how they were brought up – to be creative and never waste anything. She took that mentality into her photography. There were treasures to be found everywhere, and what other people might not have found important, everyday moments of life, was important to her.”

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